Scholarly publishing presentations

As a part of Open Access Week, a number of us (Cheri Smith, Collette Mak, Parker Ladwig, and myself) organized a set of presentations on the topic of scholarly publishing with the goal of increasing awareness of the issues across the Hesburgh Libraries. This posting outlines the event which took place on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

The first presentation was given by Kasturi Halder (Julius Nieuwland Professor of Biological Sciences and Founding Director of the Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases) who described her experience working with the Public Library of Science (PLoS). Specifically, Halder is the editor-in-chief of PLoS Pathogens with a total editorial staff of close to 140 persons. The journal receives about 200 submissions per month, and her efforts require approximately one hour of time per day. She describes the journal as if it were a community, and she says one of the biggest problems they have right now is internationalization. Halder was a strong advocate for open access publishing. “It is important to make the content available because the research is useful all over the world… When the content is free it can be used in any number of additional ways including text mining and course packs… Besides, the research is government funded and ought to be given back to the public… Patients should have access to articles.” Halder lauded PLoS One, a journal which accepts anything as long as it has been peer-reviewed, and she cited an article co-written by as many as sixty-four students here at Notre Dame as an example. Finally, Halder advocated article-level impact as opposed to journal-level impact as a measure of success.

Anthony Holter (Assistant Professional Specialist in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, Institute for Educational Initiatives) outlined how Catholic Education has migrated from a more traditional scholarly publication to something that stretches the definition of a journal. Started in 1997 as a print journal, Catholic Education was sponsored and supported by four institutions of higher education, each paying an annual fee. The purpose of the journal was (and still is) to “promote and disseminate scholarship about the purposes, practices, and issues in Catholic education at all levels.” Over time the number of sponsors grew and eventually faced two problems. First, they realized that libraries were paying twice for the content. Once for the membership fee and again for a subscription. Second, many practitioners appreciated the journal when they were in school, but as they graduated they no longer had access to it. What to do? The solution was to go open access. The journal is now hosted at Boston College. In this new venue Holter has more access to usage statistics than he has ever had before making it easier for him to track trends. For example, he saw many searches on topics of leadership, and consequently, he anticipates a special issue on leadership in the near future. Finally, Holter also sees the journal akin to a community, and the editorial board plans to exploit social networks to a greater degree in an effort to make the community more interactive. “We are trying to create a rich tapestry of a journal.” For the time being, Project Euclid fits the bill.

Finally Peter Cholak (Professor of Mathematics, College of Science) put words to characteristics of useful scholarly journals and used the Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic as an example. Cholak looks to journals to add value to scholarly research. He does not want to pay any sort of page or image charges (which are sometimes the case in open access publications). Cholak looks for author-friendly copyright agreements from publishers. This is the case because his community is expected (more or less) to submit their soon-to-be-published articles in a repository called MathSciNet. He uses MathSciNet as both a dissemination and access tool. A few years ago the Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic needed a new home, and Cholak visited many people across the Notre Dame campus looking for ways to make is sustainable. (I remember him coming to the libraries, for example.) He found little, if any, support. Sustainability is a major issue. “Who is going to pay? Creation, peer-review, and dissemination all require time and money?” Project Euclid fits the bill.

The presentations were well-received by the audience of about twenty people. Most were from the Libraries but others were from across the University. It was interesting to compare & contrast the disciplines. One was theoretical. Another was empirical. The third was both academic and practical at once and at the same time. There was lively discussion after the formal presentations. Such was the goal. I sincerely believe each of the presenters have more things in common than differences when it comes to scholarly communication. At the same time they represented a wide spectrum of publishing models. This spectrum is the result of the current economic and technological environment, and the challenge is to see the forest from the trees. The challenge for libraries is to understand the wider perspectives and implement solutions satisfying the needs of most people given limited amounts of resources. In few places is this more acute than in the realm of scholarly communication.

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